May 6, 2014 11:36:53 PM
Being clutch doesn't faze Michael Sturdivant.
While some players might shy away from the responsibility of getting a big hit or making a big play with a game on the line, the Columbus High School senior has embraced the opportunities he has had to lead his team to victories.
All of the chances have helped Sturdivant become adept at producing in clutch situations.
"Clutch is when all of the pressure is on you and your mind goes blank," Sturdivant said. "It is just you and the ball. You don't think about the pressure. You don't think about the outcome. It is just you and the ball. It is just you knowing you're going to dominate the ball."
In a season filled with timely performances by players up and down the lineup, Sturdivant delivered one of the biggest performances Saturday.
With Columbus trailing Clinton 6-4 in the bottom of the seventh inning, Sturdivant's double helped Columbus tie the game and send it to extra innings. Columbus ultimately prevailed 7-6 in 10 innings to advance to the second round of the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 6A North State playoffs.
Columbus (23-6) will take on Tupelo (22-8) at 6 p.m. Friday in Tupelo. Game 2 will be at 6 p.m. Saturday in Columbus. If needed, Game 3 will be Monday back in Tupelo.
Sturdivant's penchant for producing in dramatic situations has helped the Falcons have the best season in program history.
Series victories against Olive Branch and Clinton are the first and second in the history of the program. They have come in a season in which seniors like Sturdivant, Chris McCullough, Trace Lee, and Hunter Mullis have led an experienced squad that also has received contributions from young players like Isaiah Farmer and Deonteau Rieves and seniors like Kaden Patel.
But even though a multitude of players have contributed in some fashion, it is hard not to put Sturdivant's timely hitting near the top of the list.
"I just knew I was going to get on base somehow," Sturdivant said of his latest clutch delivery. "There wasn't any fear in my heart. I knew I was going to get on base. The confidence comes from the man upstairs. I give it all to God first and I listen to what my coaches tell me."
Sturdivant said his maturation has enabled him to deliver in clutch situations. Two years ago, Sturdivant had just five at-bats in four games. As a junior, Sturdivant played in 27 games and hit .232 with nine RBIs and 16 hits.
This season, he has blossomed into a 6-foot-1, 200-pounder who is hitting .341 and is tied for third on the team in hits (28), second on the team in RBIs (28), and is first on the team -- and in Class 6A -- in doubles (14). He also had one triple, one home run, and has scored 20 runs.
Columbus High coach Jeffrey Cook believes Sturdivant, who has six multi-hit games and nine multi-RBI games, will get a chance to play baseball somewhere after he graduates from high school. He said Sturdivant has worked hard to become someone the Falcons can trust to come through when they need a big hit.
"It seems he comes up in a clutch situation after he has made an error in the field," Cook said. "I always tell them, 'This is baseball, and the way baseball works the next inning it is going to come back to you and you are going to get a chance to redeem yourself.'
"He has been in that situation four or five times this year where he didn't make the best play in the field, but he came back and got the clutch hit. He got a big hit at Madison Central. He did it against Olive Branch. The other night (against Clinton) he hit the ball really well. Mike has really improved a lot."
Cook said an injury from his time on the football team prevented Sturdivant from having a better junior season. This year, though, he said Sturdivant's confidence has soared thanks to all of the clutch hits.
Cook said Sturdivant has matured from a 5-10, 165-pounder into a seasoned senior who is ready to answer the call.
"He is a physical kid," Cook said. "I think a lot of it was maturing physically and mentally. He has accepted his role. Last year, he probably didn't think he should be out there and probably wasn't as confident. I think this year he came out with the mind-set someone is going to have to take my spot. I think that had to be a big part of it. But he has been clutch in several games. He has just hit the ball really well."
Lee said Sturdivant's ability to produce has been "ridiculous." He said the Falcons trust everyone in the lineup, but that Sturdivant has earned the nickname "Mr. Clutch."
"It has been amazing to watch because you understand when you are at the plate you understand the pressure and he is calm, relaxed, and he is a guy we trust," Lee said. "He is a guy that has performed and proved himself to be clutch, and I believe he is going to be clutch in the rest of our season. This has been his best season. He has been Mr. Clutch, but he has improved in every aspect, which has been a pleasure to watch."
Sturdivant said "passing the test" in front of packed crowds and local TV stations doesn't bother him. He said his confidence has soared with each hit and makes him want to experience another situation so he can do it all over again.
"When the door is open, I have no choice but to walk through it," Sturdivant said. "I have to reach out there and get it."
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.